The Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, has advised the Nigeria Customs Service to see how they could use perishable seized goods for economic interventions.
Recently, the acting Customs Area Controller in charge of the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, NCS, Hussein Ejibunu, while giving the first-year report of the unit, told journalists that between January and June 2022, the unit had seized 45, 928 bags of foreign parboiled rice of 50kg each which was equivalent to 77 trailer-loads, among others.
Reacting, Yusuf said, “If you have seizures that are perishable, I think the appropriate thing to do is to see how to use them for some social interventions. There are so many areas in our society that are in need of food or some many of those things that are perishable. We should not allow those things to get rotten before we dispose of them.”
He advised that a time frame should be given for these commodities to be disposed of, adding that the Customs was not doing enough in the area of ensuring quick disposal of these goods.
“Once it has been established that these are seizures and they are not likely to return to the owners, then there should be a time frame to dispose them to meet some social needs in the society. It could even be the social investment programme that the government is doing. There should be a way, rather than just keep them with the Customs and struggle with space. The thing is rotting away. So, there should be a way and time frame to dispose of these,” Yusuf noted.
“The Customs are not doing enough, which is why those things are lying down there. There should be a time frame and the reduction in the bureaucracy on how to dispose of the perishables. They should decentralise it so that at the zonal command, decisions can be taken so that within their own command they can identify institutions that are in need of these things and use them to support,” he noted.
Also, a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Ikenna Nwosu, said that the question should be if the Customs was actually expediting actions to ensure that the seized goods were taken away before they went bad.
“If it is a seizure, it is supposed to be auctioned as soon as possible. And when it is auctioned, the Customs recovers the duty that should have been paid on the item so that Nigerians will benefit. But again, you cannot auction it if NAFDAC says it is not good for human consumption. So, the question is whether Customs expedites whatever action is needed before the items become inedible. Any item in the Customs’ warehouse is either in detention or seizure.”
A source from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control said that the Customs had not been carrying NAFDAC along in the process of determining if the products were safe for consumption or not.
“The ideal thing that is supposed to happen is, once these products are seized and taken to the government warehouse, before they are given out to IDP camps or anywhere, NAFDAC should be on the know so that we take samples of these products and analyse them. But I don’t think they have been doing so and you know products like these have shelf life and cannot be forever.
“The ideal thing is that they are supposed to invite us as we speak. We don’t know what has been happening. There are other things you can do with spoilt rice; it can be used for the farm. There is a standing arrangement whereby they must inform NAFDAC of whatever they want to do with it. You know the borders and ports are under their control; they are the landlords. We just come and go, but those seizures must have been done by them on our behalf. They have the power to seize these items on our behalf.”
Reacting to this, the National Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Timi Bomodi, said that the service must follow due process before any action would be taken on seized goods.
“When seizures are made, there are other procedures that follow and a procedure that is compulsory is condemnation from the court. Once the condemnation is obtained from the court, the service is free to do with them whatever they want. A lot of these seizures are still facing condemnation in court and the NCS cannot go to the judiciary to tell them to prioritise our cases because I am sure that the judiciary itself is overwhelmed with its own challenges,” he said.